In five years, will you still be friends with the people you jumped with today? How about in 60 years?
On St. Valentine’s Day weekend, February 14-17, many of our sport’s founding members and innovators reconnected with lifelong friends in Felicity, California—the Official Center of the World (as declared by France’s Institut Géographique National in 1985)—during the Pioneers of Sport Parachuting Reunion. The event also included a celebration of USPA President Emeritus Jacques-André Istel’s 90th birthday (or, as Istel referred to it, his “100th birthday rehearsal”).
Istel, USPA D-2 and I-1 (USPA once numbered instructor ratings), is the founder and mayor of Felicity, which he named after his wife, Felicia. The town, marked by a roadside sign that states, “Felicity—population 2,” is a curiosity to many tourists as they travel the desert along I-8 outside Yuma, Arizona. For a small fee they can enter the 21-foot-tall pyramid there and place their toes on the bronze plaque that marks the exact spot of the center of the world. It is a truly awe-inspiring place, especially under canopy.
Complete with its own post office, sundial, part of the original stairway from the Eiffel Tower and church, Felicity is the winter home of the Istels, but it is more than that … much more: It is a monument to human achievement. The area between the pyramid and the church contains the Museum of History in Granite, several rows of engraved 5-foot-tall granite panels designed to last 5,000 years that depict the history of humanity. It is a site to behold and a very fun place to jump.
Skydive Arizona in Eloy provided its Pilatus Porter, piloted by Steven Roebke, for the event. The plane flew 74 slots on 12 loads, in addition to seven flag-jump loads. Instructors Jay Stokes and John Sheldon brought their tandem gear and provided jumps for the pioneers who could no longer jump solo, as well as the pioneers’ families. Members of the Rebels, Air Trash and Parachutists Over Phorty Society groups, along with other jumpers, kept the plane turning. Although it was somewhat windy and a little chilly, all the jumps went perfectly, and everyone went home happy, healthy and exhausted (especially Stokes and TopPOP James Davis, who both made seven flag jumps during Saturday’s ceremonies).
The Pioneers of Sport Parachuting Reunions began in 1997 and have occurred every year or two since. Kim Knor organized this year’s POSPR, which attracted hundreds of visitors. Nearly 50 pioneers attended, including the surviving members of the first full U.S. Parachute Team, which won gold at the 1962 World Championships in Orange, Massachusetts. The crowd was filled with the sport’s luminaries—including members of the International Skydiving Hall of Fame—many of whom have socialized together for more than 60 years.
Saturday’s events included a number of commemorations and dedications. In a heartfelt ceremony, Istel handed the reins of his Hall of Fame of Parachuting, which is commemorated in granite on the property, over to Stokes. Istel, assisted by dozens of young children, also dedicated the new Animals of the World Monument. The ceremony included an introduction of the newest section of the museum, the Maze of Honor, for which anyone can purchase a small granite plaque laser-etched with their name, photo and a short paragraph to be placed along the maze’s walls.
Additionally, Istel and a Marine Corps Color Guard held a remembrance of the Battle of Chosin at the property’s U.S. Marine Corps Korean War Memorial. Dignitaries from around the world attended, including the Consul of France and General Silvestre deSacy, who came from Paris for the ceremonies.
After the event, Istel wrote, “Having been negative (to say the least) about mention of my 90th birthday, I belatedly and from the heart thank all the Pioneers of Sport Parachuting who conceived, created, signed and flew a large and attractive flag to that effect. I also thank those who flew flags at the February 16 United States Marine Corps and Animals of the World Monument dedications and all who attended the rehearsal-for-100th-birthday party. The French state that gratitude is largely composed of the hope of benefits to come. Hence, this request: Kindly fly the same flag on my actual 100th birthday so that, feeling young as always, I may delight in publicly lying about my age.”
There are not too many activities that generate friendships of such strength and longevity as skydiving. To keep a friend for 50 years is a remarkable thing; to travel across the country or even the world to spend time doing what you love with those friends—friends of such diverse social, financial, occupational and even religious or political stripes, friends that share that common thread, that common desire to fly—is truly remarkable.
Bob Lewis | C-29597
Park City, Utah